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CNS Unemployment Reporting: The Pandemic Flip-Out, Part 2

In the last half of 2020, continued to try and put a pro-Trump spin on U.S. unemployment numbers ... until it decided not to.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 4/1/2021

In the first part of this series, ConWebWatch looked at how spun unemployment numbers during the pandemic to make President Trump at least somewhat good. In this part we examine how those numbers were reported from mid-2020 to the end of Trump's presidency, when it continued to push that pro-Trump rah-rah -- until it didn't.
July 2020

As a pro-Trump media outlet, is compelled to make the unemployment numbers as good as possible in service of President Trump. Susan Jones was in full embellishment mode for her lead article on June's unemployment numbers:

As America reopens, the economy is recovering from the devastating employment snapshot recorded in April and May, and while the numbers released today show improvement, they're still far from the many records set under Trump.

According to the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employed Americans increased by 4,940,000 in June to 142,182,000.

While that's well below the Trump-era record high of 158,803,000 set in December 2019, it is is 30,000 more than the number of Americans counted as employed when Barrack Obama took office amid a recession in January 2009.

The number of unemployed Americans dropped by 3,235,000 last month, and the nation's unemployment rate also dropped to 11.1 percent, down from 13.3 percent in May and the record 14.7 percent in April.

President Trump, at an impromptu Thursday morning news conference, hailed the 4.8 million jobs added in June, calling the "largest monthly jobs gain in the history of our country."

Jones made no mention of the BLS' classification errors that should have made the unemployment rates for April and May even higher than they were.

As usual, CNS served up sidebars on government employment and Hispanic employment. These articles also failed to mention the BLS' classification error affecting the numbers, nor did it tell readers what the "real unemployment rate" was, even though that U-6 rate (18.0 percent) is much higher than it was under the Obama administration, a time when CNS last regularly reported it.

Instead, CNS did an article on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointing out that Trump needs to demonstrate "real leadership" by working with Democrats to pass a relief bill, which Craig Bannister chose to interpret as Schumer demanding that "Senate Republicans give Democrats what they want" -- blithely ignoring the fact that Americans are in need of further economic relief.

August 2020

For its coverage of July's unemployment numbers, CNS made sure to shill for President Trump. In her lead story, Jones conceded that improvement has slowed, but she also wants to remind us how great Trump made things before the pandemic:

It's been almost five months since the emerging COVID pandemic crashed what had been a strong and record-breaking employment streak under President Donald Trump.

On Friday, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics said the employment picture continues to improve, as 143,532,000 people were working in July, up 1,350,000 from the 142,182,000 employed in June. This is the third straight monthly increase in the number of employed, although it’s a smaller increase than June’s (+4,940,000) and the one in May (+3,827,000).

The number of employed broke 25 records under President Trump, most recently in December 2019 when 158,803,000 people were counted as employed.

It wasn't until the sixth paragraph that she got around to mentioning the number that matters: the unemployment rate.

Craig Bannister served up his usual sidebar on the Hispanic unemployment rate, while editor in chief Terry Jeffrey did the same on government employment.

Again, none of these CNS articles reported the "real unemployment rate" -- the U-6 rate that includes "marginally attached" employees as well as part-time workers seeking full-time work -- despite the fact it was a favorite metric when President Obama was in office. (It was 16.8 percent in July.)

September 2020

August's unemployment numbers were decent enough that Jones' lead article did some aggressive gushing -- while, of course, working in how the economy was great before the pandemic:

Here's some encouraging news heading into the Labor Day weekend: The number of employed Americans increased for a fourth straight month in August, as 3,756,000 more Americans either returned to or joined the labor force, according to the monthly report produced by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

After slipping from a near-record high of 158,759,000 in February -- then tanking in April to 133,403,000 -- the number of employed Americans increased in May to 137,242,000; June (142,182,000); July (143,532,000) and now August (147,288,000 employed).

Likewise, the nation's unemployment rate dropped for a fourth straight month in August, settling at 8.4 percent vs. 10.2 percent in July -- and well below the record shattering 14.7 percent in April, as the pandemic-induced shutdown took full effect. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, a 50-year low.

Needless to say, Jones made no mention of the "real unemployment rate" metric it loved pushing when a Democrat was president, and she gave a pass for the labor force participation rate being relatively low that she rarely gave though the reason -- retiring baby boomers -- was the same for it being relatively low under President Obama.

CNS also served up the usual sidebars -- Bannister on Hispanic employment and Terry Jeffrey on manufacturing jobs.

October 2020

You know the unemployment numbers are bad when the aggressive pro-Trump spinners at CNS couldn't find a way to go all rah-rah over them. Note the dejected tone of Jones' lead article on the September numbers, where even her pro-Trump spin is labored and sadly nostalgic:

As more of the nation's economy opens amid the coronavirus pandemic, the September employment shows a fifth straight month of progress, but it's meager progress at best.

The number of employed Americans increased by only 275,000, to 147,563,000 in September from 147,288,000 in August.

The nation's unemployment rate dropped to 7.9 percent from 8.4 percent in August, as the number of unemployed people dropped by 970,000, to 12,580,000.


The labor force is made up of the employed and the unemployed. The remainder -- those who have no job and are not looking for one -- are counted as “not in the labor force," and in a troubling sign, this number increased in September by 879,000 to 100,599,000 from 99,720,000 in August.

(The lowest this number has been under President Trump is 94,279,000 in April 2017. BLS notes that this number has been steadily increasing in recent years as more baby boomers retire, and certainly the COVID-related business closures have accelerated the increase as more people drop out of the workforce.)

In that month, the nation's unemployment rate (3.5 percent) was at a 50-year low; the labor force participation rate (63.4 percent) was at a Trump-era high; and the number of employed Americans (158,759,000) was just 44,000 shy of the all-time record set in December 2019 -- the 25th such record set under President Trump.

The authors of the sidebars couldn't do much better. Jeffrey wrote that "The United States added 66,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector in the month of September, but that still left the nation with 647,000 fewer manufacturing jobs then it had in February when the COVID-19 pandemic struck,"conceding that "When President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, there were 12,369,000 manufacturing jobs in the United States. The September count of 12,205,000 was 164,000 behind that."

Bannister did a little better in his report on Hispanic unemployment, but still had to admit that "The 10.3% national, seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for Hispanics and Latinos in August fell by 0.2 percentage points from August’s 10.5% level and 8.6 points from the record-high of 18.9% set in April, but remained well above March’s 6.0% mark."

November 2020

Jones did her best to put a positive pro-Trump spin on October's employment numbers under the headline "Post-Election Gains":

October marked the sixth straight month of post-pandemic employment gains, as the economy added 638,000 jobs and the nation's unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent, a point below September's 7.9 percent and far lower than the record-shattering, COVID-induced 14.7 percent in April.

The Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 149,806,000 people as employed in October, which is 2,243,000 more than September's number, but 8,997,000 below the record 158,803,000 people employed in December 2019, just before the pandemic erupted.
Interesting that Jones is touting December 2019 as the relevant pre-pandemic high, given that the pandemic didn't affect employment numbers until March.

Jones also noted the low labor force participation rate, but was quick to explain it away, something she rarely did when Barack Obama was president: "BLS notes that this "not in the labor force" number has been steadily increasing in recent years as more baby boomers retire, and certainly the COVID-related business closures have accelerated the increase as more people drop out of the workforce."

CNS also served up the usual sidebars. Bannister tried for pro-Trump rah-rah by claiming that "The unemployment rate for Hispanics and Latinos improved for the sixth consecutive month in October as the nation’s businesses continued reopening from the coronavirus-prompted shutdown." Government-hating Jeffrey, meanwhile, gloated that "The number of people working for government in the United States declined by 268,000 in October even as overall employment in nation increased," then had to admit, "The decline of government workers occurred as temporary Census workers were let go and employment dropped in government schools."

December 2020

CNS' efforts to spin November's unemployment numbers began early, with a Dec. 1 article by Melanie Arter that "More than half of the 22 million jobs lost in March and April due to COVID-19 shutdowns have been regained, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell told the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on Tuesday." Arter uncritically repeated Powell's claims that the Federal Reserve Board took "forceful actions to provide relief and stability, to ensure that the recovery will be as strong as possible, and to limit lasting damage to the economy."

When the numbers for November came out a few days later and looked, well, not very good for CNS' pro-Trump purposes, Susan Jones started off with an unusually downbeat main story:

As COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise in this country, the nation's labor force awaits mass vaccination. In the meantime, some states are now ordering another round of business shutdowns, a burden that falls heavily on bars, restaurants and other small businesses that have had to lay off workers.

The monthly jobs report issued today shows a less robust improvement than we've seen in recent months.

The Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics says the economy added 245,000 jobs in November, the smallest number since April.

And after six straight months of post-pandemic employment gains, the number of employed people in this country dropped by 74,000, to 149,732,000 in November.

Jones even had to concede that while the unemployment rate dropped, it was because people dropped out of the labor force.

The number of manufacturing jobs -- the focus of Jeffrey's usual sidebar -- showed anemic growth, so much so that Jeffrey didn't outright state what that number was and instead touted how "The United States has added 764,000 manufacturing jobs since jobs in that sector hit a pandemic-era low in April of this year." Bannister's sidebar was the only one that was upbeat, proclaiming that "The unemployment rate for Hispanics and Latinos improved for the seventh consecutive month in November as the nation’s businesses continued reopening from the coronavirus-prompted shutdown."

But that clearly wasn't enough pro-Trump rah-rah for CNS. That would seem to explain Jeffrey's cherry-picking follow-up article desperately spinning the numbers by comparing them to, um, Obama's first term:

The 6.7 percent unemployment rate that the United States had in November was lower than the unemployment rate for any month during President Barack Obama’s first four years in office, according to the data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In fact, the unemployment rate never dropped below 7.7 percent in Obama’s first term in office, and was climbing upward as that term came to an end.

In January 2013, when Obama was inaugurated for his second term, the unemployment rate was 8.0 percent.


In September 2012, as Obama’s first term approached an end, the unemployment rate finally fell below 8 percent, hitting 7.8 percent.

But then by January 2013, it had risen again to 8.0 percent. By the end of 2013, the first year of Obama’s second term, it had dropped to 6.7 percent—the rate it saw in November of this year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeffrey failed to acknowledge that there is a huge difference between a major recession and a pandemic-driven shutdown.

January 2021

CNS may have been shocked into balance after the Trump-instigated Jan. 6 Capitol riot, if its coverage of the unemployment numbers for the last full month of Donald Trump's presidency -- which were released two days after the riot -- was any indication. Susan Jones served up the opposite of her usual pro-Trump rah-rah in her main article, which carried the unusually truthful (for CNS) headline "Final Employment Report of Trump Presidency Is Worse Than When He Started":

The final, lackluster jobs/employment report of Donald Trump's presidency shows the lingering effects of the year-long and continuing COVID pandemic.

The numbers released Friday by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics are not as good as they have been under Donald Trump, nor are they better than they were when he took office in January 2017.


Total nonfarm payroll employment declined by 140,000 in December -- no job gains. According to BLS, the decline in payroll employment reflects the recent increase in coronavirus cases and efforts to contain the pandemic.

The only sidebar this time was the usual one by Jeffrey cheering that "The number of people employed by government in the United States dropped from 22,679,000 in December 2019 to 21,401,000 in December 2020, a decline of 1,278,000." While Jeffrey typically cheers declines in government employment, the accompanying chart showed what Jeffrey couldn't bring himself to say out loud: that the decrease was driven by the pandemic.

A surprisingly downbeat end for coverage that for much of the past four years was filled with so much Trump sycophancy.

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